I try to avoid hospitals.
I’ve only needed their services three times—that I can remember, anyway—twice for cuts that needed stitching and once for a broken wrist that required mending.
Every time I go, I’m reminded of how they over stimulate my senses. The rooms are always too bright or too dim. The machines have their own special rhythms and unique beeps. The IV tubing, gauze, bed linens, and hospital gowns all have that sterile smell that permeates the hallways. And everything feels cold and industrial, lacking the warmth and love of home.
Hospitals also evoke unpleasant memories. I remember rushing Kristen to a hospital on February 27, 2013, when her brain hemorrhaged, and I can recall vividly watching her take her last breath in a hospital, too.
So, yeah, I’m not that fond of them.
But I’m glad they are there when I need them, and I definitely needed one the night Elizabeth cut her foot.
I just wasn’t expecting what happened two days later.
After Elizabeth’s stitches were in, the PA scheduled a follow-up so they could check the progress of her healing. I wasn’t thrilled about having to come back to the hospital, but I didn’t see any reason to risk infection or complication because of my prejudices.
So two days later, we were back in the ER.
I carried Elizabeth around so she wouldn’t have to walk. She actually could walk by that point, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to hold my sweet little girl. She was still wearing her original hospital bracelet and was so excited when she got a new one.
We had arrived early that morning, hoping to get in and out as quickly as possible, and it worked. The nurse took us straight back through the double doors toward the examination rooms.
As we navigated the maze-like corridors that so often define hospitals, we turned the corner and began walking to Exam Room 18.
I recognized it immediately.
It was the same room I had taken Kristen to over a year ago.
I hesitated for only the briefest moment, and then I followed the nurse in, my 6-year-old daughter clutching my neck. I set her on the hospital bed and couldn’t help but think back to last year when I had walked into this same cramped room with Kristen, a 4-year-old Elizabeth, and our 6-day-old son. I had sat in the same chair, on the same side of the bed. I had fiddled with the same TV hoping for a distraction. I had heard the same mechanical noises coming from the dreaded machines that record matters of life and death.
This was the room where the doctor informed us that Kristen was bleeding in her brain.
This was where we cried together as the staff prepared to transfer her to Forsyth Medical.
This was where I told Kristen, “I don’t want you to die.”
And this was the room where she dried her tears, wiped away mine, looked me straight in the eye, and responded, “I’m not planning on it.”
As I stood there, just inside the doorway, I could picture these images overlapping the ones I was taking in now. But instead of seeing my wife lying on that bed, there lay the only other lady who had stolen my heart the moment I laid eyes on her.
The hospital staff took Elizabeth’s vitals, and the PA checked her wound, gave a positive report, and assured me everything was moving along on schedule.
The entire visit might have lasted 15 minutes.
Then I scooped my precious girl into my arms, walked back out into the maze, and never looked back.
I hadn’t expected what I faced that day. If I’d had time to prepare myself for it, I probably would have anticipated the worst possible pain and grief imaginable.
But I didn’t feel pain. I didn’t feel grief. I wasn’t sad or stressed or traumatized.
Even though I miss Kristen everyday and have cried many tears over her absence, this was the room where her stairway to heaven began. Just knowing she’s far happier there than she ever was here brings me peace, the kind that passes all understanding.